As Brooklyn College’s doors remain closed to in-person student events, the Student Activities, Involvement, and Leadership Center (SAIL) have continued hosting their annual fair virtually to allow BC organizations to engage with some prospective club members. In doing so, they hoped to reassure students that building connections and networks are still possible despite the pandemic.
“We do have our challenges as well, as administrators, but we do know that students come first, and we make absolutely sure that their experience is worth remembering. So we do our best to try to keep them engaged,” said SAIL Director Hamilton Raymond.
With over 130 students in attendance on Feb. 9, SAIL received a higher turnout than their first virtual fair last fall. Raymond mentioned that the Center tries their best to bring the campus’ vibrancy to its online platforms like Bulldog Connection. But with anything that has been affected by COVID-19, some obstacles have come along the way.
“Well, you know, during the pandemic, it’s always tough, especially with student engagement because everything is on zoom currently,” Raymond said. “We have to take into consideration that the students are taking classes online, and also encourage them to a virtual event that would bring them closer.”
As on-campus gatherings have taken a pause due to COVID-19, many organizations have decided to switch up their events’ style.
“It’s definitely been harder to have that same kind of excitement for events, especially with other students online because all you can do is show people a video,” said Stephanie Ortega, Mexican Heritage Student Association’s Vice-President (MeHSA). “But I mean, you can do that at home by yourself. You don’t need to go to a club event to watch a video. It’s different to see in front of your eyes than in front of your screen.” Rather than host their traditional posadas, or Christmas celebrations, and other social functions, MeHSA has transformed into a support group for students.
Nonetheless, despite the loss of on-campus interactions, Ortega finds events like the Virtual Involvement Fair to be good in its intention to engage with students. However, the outreach to incoming students like first-years or transfers has been difficult even before the pandemic.
“The concept was good. It just feels like it didn’t reach as many students as they wanted to because it’s harder to,” said Ortega. “Especially with newer students like freshmen or even sophomores – because many of them aren’t on the Facebook pages or the Instagram pages yet because they don’t even know they exist.”
Spring fairs, both on and off campus, have noticeably been less lively than those in the fall.
“Spring is pretty hard because the same people you couldn’t get in the fall are the same people now. So it’s a continuation of the same people until fall comes around,” said Mohammad Tusar, Treasurer of Phi Sigma Chi Fraternity.
He also thinks that low spring turnout partly comes from new students not being aware of their BC resources. Tusar believes that a practical solution to this issue would be to create social media pages tailored to incoming classes.
The dwindling attraction of students from the fall, Raymond believes, may come from the fact that the semester comes with other activities that are on students’ radars.
“In a sense, it’s a little bit more difficult,” said Raymond. “This semester is the longest semester. It incorporates a lot of milestone events such as the commencement and spring break, so students are a lot focused on that, so that takes priority.”
With the fair carrying out during a pandemic, many club leaders have noticed that student engagement has gradually declined with the college’s move to online.
“We had very low engagement overall compared to in-person but were able to find a couple of prospective members,” said Jessica Betancourt, President of the Mock Trial and Moot Court Team. “(…)I think it has more to do with students not being interested in joining clubs this year due to the current situation.”
Before COVID-19, the Team would have students prepare mock trials and moot court cases. They would develop arguments, write up opening and closing statements, and essentially, develop their public speaking skills for their future in the courtroom. Despite no longer having a physical space to expand their practices, the Team has continued online.
“As for our activities, we will have to gauge how effective a virtual platform is in the following semesters once we bring new students on, though hopefully, we won’t have too many hiccups,” said Betancourt.
Though adapting virtual learning has impacted student engagement during the annual SAIL involvement fair, many BC organizations look forward to the campus’s reopening for common hours, peer networking, and some club fun.
“I feel like everyone’s been lacking that personal connection with each other since we’ve gone online,” said Ortega. “And I feel like it’d be helpful for everyone’s esteem and to help lift everyone’s spirits when we get back to campus.”